Quick hits following Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge's weekly appearance on Boston sports radio WEEI (93.7 FM).
On Wednesday's win over the Pacers: "Well, last night was a good win for us, obviously, to hang in there and score the last 11 points of the game. I didn't think we played particularly well throughout the course of the game, but they really grinded it out. It looked like when we came back and tied it up and then they went out and hit those three straight threes to go up nine, that was not looking promising, but you've got to credit Doc. He called a quick timeout, got the guys re-organized, went on a couple runs ourselves in that last fourth-quarter stretch, and executed perfectly on that last play."
On what he expected to see on the game-winning play: "I actually thought that it was going to be -- with Avery holding the ball (to run the clock down) -- I thought it was going to be a KG and Paul pindown for Paul to catch and curl and make a play in the free-throw line area, or for Paul to catch and then set a quick step-up pick-and-roll with KG, most likely leading to a KG jump shot at the elbow. That's what it looked like the formation was set up to be when Avery was holding that ball."
On the importance of getting home-court advantage in the playoffs: "I think that it's secondary to health and rest and freshness. Nothing is more important than just fresh bodies. We've seen what's happened to KG with just a few days off and how he's responded where he was dragging. It's not a perfect science, you can't predict it. The temptation is to continue to grind and push and fight for every win, and ... between Doc, KG, and I, we'll try to figure it out and we've got to trust KG to talk to us, and I think that he is more willing to do that than he ever has been in his career. I think he's wiser and sort of gets it, and so I think that we need to figure out what's best for him. And not only him, but Paul.
"Paul's been playing with the sore neck. When we went into the really bad stretch after winning six in a row and then we went through the bad stretch, I think a lot of it was Paul. I saw Paul every day during that stretch just really in pain. ... And as we started winning, I don't think it was a coincidence that Paul started feeling a lot better. So I think that those are two guys and then I think Jason Terry, also."
On how the team has played differently without Rajon Rondo: "...Sometimes it's the fact that the players defer to the other great players. Sometimes they don't practice it because it's just so easy to get the ball to Rondo to bring up all the time instead of Avery grabbing the defensive rebound and pushing the ball up the court himself, and Rondo running on the other wing and the ball being swung to Rondo and now he's coming off the pick-and-roll. And so, I think that we're all learning from this. We're all learning that the respect of the other players is growing and they get the respect that they now deserve, as opposed to being the guys that aren't living up to their potential.
"It's just amazing that two months ago it was Jeff Green and Courtney Lee and Jason Terry that weren't playing well enough. And now all of a sudden we're 13-4 and those guys are playing great. And I think that Rondo was, like, voted a starter on the All-Star team and now it's like we're better without him. I mean, this stuff is crazy, how the trends go. I think there's a tiny bit of truth in all of it, like Rondo can adjust his game to allow other players to play a little better, move better without the ball, play more, cut harder, and shoot more, shoot his mid-range jump shot more. I think all those things, and turn the ball over less. But I think that we have a much better chance of beating Miami in a playoff series with Rajon Rondo."
On what Rondo has learned from watching the team since his injury: "Well, so let me clarify something else, too, that we're missing out on. And that is, last year we were stinking up the place in the first half of the year, and with Rondo -- who was a big part of it -- we went on a great stretch for the second half of the year. And the year before the same thing happened. We were playing terrible basketball, 27-27. We get to the playoffs and we play the best basketball of the KG, Paul Pierce, Ray Allen era, and Rondo was a huge part of that. So, you can't just, statistically, say, 'Hey, we're better now because we don't have Rondo.' This has happened every year. I think KG's playing better, I think Paul's playing better as his health is coming around, I think Jeff is getting back from the injury and getting more comfortable and feeling more a part of the team.
"I told (Celtics radio analyst Cedric Maxwell earlier in the season), 'This is not our team. We will be better.' And I said that because we were 21st in defense at the time. I was not worried about defense and I never am. I'm more worried offense, because that's been our Achilles heel for five years. And so, I think that our defense now is fifth in the NBA, going up from 21st at that time. And we're doing it in different ways. We don't have great individual defenders except for KG and Avery, but we have a lot of guys who are smart and clever and we've implemented a zone and a switching man-to-man, and it's helped us through this stretch."